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| October 1, 2010 | Food & Drink
Endive salad from Bistrot La Minette
10 ARTS BISTRO & LOUNGE BY ERIC RIPERT | MODERN AMERICAN
While Eric Ripert’s star may have been temporarily eclipsed by chef de cuisine Jennifer Carroll’s noteworthy turn as a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef in 2009, it’s not celebrity that fuels the dining experience at 10 Arts so much as the menu. From the toasty-warm Philly soft pretzels with jalapeño jam to the fennel-laced mini fish burger served in the lounge to the jewel-toned confines of the main dining room—where gourmet riffs on rabbit, Pennsylvania brook trout and sweetbreads are de rigueur—the bistro and lounge remain one of Philly’s top tables.
THE DISH ON GROUP DINING: The Reserve is a cushy setting for larger groups desiring private environs and customized menus, but smaller parties will love the marble-topped communal table that comfortably straddles the lounge and main dining room for light bites and cocktails. 10 Avenue of the Arts, 215-523-8273; 10arts.com
BISTROT LA MINETTE | FRENCH
For some authentic French amour, reserve a table at Bistrot La Minette, a quaint restaurant that sets a Parisian scene with textured yellow walls, bright red plush seating, marble tabletops and heirloom-like picture frames on the walls. It’s right at home in Queen Village, a spot that feels casual yet a little refined. Overhead, the iconic voice of Edith Piaf sets the mood, and the bustle of an open kitchen allows a glimpse into chef Peter Woolsey’s domain. Order a bottle of wine from the respectable list while a waiter in a crimson apron plies you with bread baked on the premises and answers any questions about the food or its preparation. Start your dinner with an heirloom tomato salad, and for the main course savor the halibut made complete with fingerling potatoes, haricot verts, herb purée and saffron sauce. The house-made ice cream is a requisite—its rich caramel flavor pairs well with the bistro’s apple tart, and a scoop is the perfect way to end any meal.
THE DISH ON GROUP DINING: The intimate charm of Bistrot’s private dining salon is perfect for groups of 12 to 20 guests, who savor the family-style menu from atop a weathered-wood table handcrafted by Woolsey. 623 S. Sixth St., 215-925-8000; bistrotlaminette.com
FORK | NEW AMERICAN
From the pressed, clean whites worn by the chefs to the lush yet unassuming neutral colors of the décor, an aura of casual richness surrounds Fork. While the seasonal menus try to offer something for everyone, the restaurant maintains a regular selection of recognizable fish, duck, steak and vegetarian selections. Entrées run the gamut from Argentinean-influenced chimichurri hanger steak to pan-seared duck breast with pancetta.
THE DISH ON GROUP DINING: The private rear dining area seats up to 35 people, and special menus are available from chef Terence Feury. 306 Market St., 215-625-9425; forkrestaurant.com
GIRASOLE | ITALIAN
Girasole is a tiny gem of an eatery that’s big on hospitality, panache and taste. The restaurant has a small bar area and seats only about 50 for dinner, but the entire space is decorated lavishly and boasts high-end finishes and luxe details such as a granite bar, tufted-leather booths and an artfully displayed wine collection. A large painting depicting a field of golden sunflowers (girasole means sunflower in Italian) welcomes guests who come here to savor—as the restaurant’s website notes—“old-world cuisine in a setting of modern elegance.” The menu offers Italian classics such as house-made gnocchi as well as specialties like ricciola crudo, a plate of raw kingfish marinated in blood-orange juice and served with tomato chunks and cubes of fresh avocado. It’s a light dish perfect for a summer evening and a refreshing way to prepare your palate for other zesty creations. Standout entrées include the langoustine specials—we enjoyed ours dusted with bread crumbs and fresh herbs and broiled on the half shell—and the flavorful pappardelle with baby artichokes and speck. The friendly staff will happily guide you through the large and diverse selection of antipasti and secondi, and the restaurant offers daily additions to the menu. Be sure to leave room for dessert; the house-made sweets are as authentically Italian as they are delicious.
THE DISH ON GROUP DINING: Host a small gathering here Sunday through Friday and enjoy Girasole’s three-course prix fixe menu for $35 per person. 1410 Pine St., 215-732-2728; girasolephilly.com
MORIMOTO | CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE
Masaharu Morimoto may have trained with culinary masters in Japan and perfected his craft at New York’s Nobu, but when it came time to hang out his own shingle in 2001, the Food Network star chose to set up a kitchen in Philly. Since then, the sushi guru and Iron Chef celeb has been attracting eager foodies at his eponymous Washington Square restaurant with inventive Japanese dishes served in a decidedly mod setting. Any one of his appetizers—divided on the menu into cold and hot categories—is an exciting start to a meal, but the best of the bunch is a leg of spicy king crab. Served simply, the substantial and sweet crustacean is presented on the half shell. Entrées include a wide variety of cooked and raw sea creatures and a few meats, including surf and turf with a Kobe beef filet, but the ishi yaki buri bop stands out as a delicious and entertaining dinner choice. Presented tableside, the thin slices of king yellowtail are seared in a hot river-stone bowl and mixed with sushi rice and a powerful sauce of soy, ginger, garlic and sesame. Desserts highlight classic Japanese flavors—yuzu and green tea—but are expertly blended with Western favorites, including cocoa and cream.
THE DISH ON GROUP DINING: The lower-level, ultraprivate room seats 17 people. A limited menu is available, but the omakase, a selection of dishes chosen by the chef, is a favorite here. 723 Chestnut St., 215-413-9070; morimotorestaurant.com
OSTERIA | ITALIAN
If the way to the heart is through the stomach, Philadelphia has been in love with chef Marc Vetri for years. And at the celeb chef’s Broad Street eatery, Osteria, the romance is hotter than ever (or is that just the fire burning in the brick oven?). Executive chef Jeff Michaud, who studied Italian cooking in the motherland, heads the kitchen. The menu selections are less expensive than those at Vetri, but the fare lives up to the flagship’s reputation. We recommend one of Osteria’s signature thin-crust pizzas; varieties range from traditional margherita pies to exotic offerings topped with octopus or egg. The house-made pastas don’t disappoint, either: Try the beet and goat cheese plin with tarragon. Jeff Benjamin, who oversees the wine list, and beverage director Steve Wildy are always at the ready with the perfect bottle to complement your meal.
THE DISH ON GROUP DINING: Parties of all sizes can dine family-style or be served individually in Osteria’s wine room, enclosed patio, kitchen table (accommodates up to 14 diners) or the main dining room. 640 N. Broad St., 215-763-0920; osteriaphilly.com
SAMPAN | MODERN ASIAN
Chef Michael Schulson first made waves in the area with Borgata’s Izakaya but has finally found his way to our side of the bridge, toting fame and high expectations along for the ride. Happily, the buzz around Sampan has been more than justified. The 13th Street resto has an intimate vibe and high-style décor, but the menu is what wows us the most. From dish to dish, Schulson expertly blends flavors that hang together and complement one another brilliantly. Kobe beef salad, all tender, heady richness, is accompanied by papaya, mint and pickled carrots. Shaken tuna tartare exists in a more overtly savory realm, the fattiness of avocado reinforcing the texture and richness of the fish. (Puffed rice provides the snap and a perfect sense of textural differentiation.) Crispy Brussels sprouts are paired with an aromatic fish sauce and the heat of chilies, making this side dish one of the best in the city right now. And who knew that edamame could make a dish downright sexy? Schulson purées the soybeans, cosseting them in a silky dumpling skin and scenting them with the heady perfume of truffle before serving them bathed in a subtle, addictive sake broth. They’re revelatory—a perfect emblem for this fabulous addition to the city’s dining scene.
THE DISH ON GROUP DINING: Sampan’s décor—dark woods, deep blues and purples—and banquette seating make it easy to carve out intimate dinners in the open dining room. 124 S. 13th St., 215-732-3501; sampanphilly.com
SAVONA | FRENCH-ITALIAN
Featuring the world-class culinary creations of chef Andrew Masciangelo and boasting the largest wine cellar in the state (more than 1,000 choices), Savona is one of the Main Line’s most revered restaurants. On any night of the week, you can see the area’s most prominent movers and shakers gathering at the recently redone Bar Savona, where they munch on decadent light fare and boozy cocktails—but it’s in the main dining room where the gastronomic wonders really occur. In creating his artistically presented seasonal Frenchand Italian-inspired dishes, Masciangelo utilizes his farm-to-table philosophy, featuring only local foods in his culinary creations. Standouts include Savona’s renowned Dover sole, a buttery study in perfection topped with a delicious lemon butter sauce; butter-poached Maine lobster with fava beans and morel mushroom risotto; or filet mignon with caramelized onion tart, asparagus and sauce aux champignons. And be sure to end your meal with the utterly decadent soufflé or dark chocolate and orange mousse.
THE DISH ON GROUP DINING: For family affairs, Savona offers up three distinctive private dining spaces with seating for six to 25 guests. Both casual and formal menus are available, depending on where you are seated, as is the extensive wine list. 100 Old Gulph Road, 610-520-1200, Gulph Mills; savonarestaurant.com
XIX NINETEEN | AMERICAN
Strands of pearls hang from the dome of XIX Nineteen, the Hyatt at The Bellevue’s in-house restaurant that exudes old-world elegance. Appetizers— especially those from the raw bar—set high expectations for the rest of the meal, which proves equally delicious. Try the roasted Emberly Farms chicken thighs with cheddar stone-ground grits, morel mushrooms, green onions and grilled baby Spanish octopus with olive oil potatoes, black olives, aji amarillo and smoked paprika aioli. XIX Nineteen boasts a hefty wine list, with 150 selections that will complement any dinner selection.
THE DISH ON GROUP DINING: XIX Nineteen’s grand interiors make for truly memorable events. Choose from a private dining room complete with iPod-ready sound system, the sweeping café and its breathy views and balconies or the wine table. 200 S. Broad St., 215-790-1919; nineteenrestaurant.com
ZAHAV | MODERN ISRAELI
At Zahav chef Michael Solomonov pays homage to traditional recipes from his native Israel. Start with salatim, a selection of eight salads served in a multitiered caddy. Warm laffa bread (baked on the premises) with hummus is also a delicious starter. For something more rib-sticking, order the Sabra skewer of seasoned boneless chicken, roasted onions and Israeli couscous. The wine list, featuring one of the most extensive Israeli selections on the East Coast, also includes bottles from Lebanon and Morocco in addition to more familiar European varieties.
THE DISH ON GROUP DINING: The Quarter, Zahav’s private dining room, comfortably accommodates up to 24 guests. Opt for the mesibah (that means “party time” in Hebrew) menu, a multicourse feast for $42 per person. 237 St. James Pl., 215-625-8800; zahavrestaurant.com